I’m going to keep this brief because I’m supposed to be elbow deep in some queer science fiction for NaNoWriMo. Stranger Things S2 Ep7 “The Lost Sister” infused the narrative with a vitality and diversity that enhanced the experience for me as a viewer.
Below thar be spoilers…
When I mention diversity, I’m not using it as an empty buzz word. True, Kali and her found-family murder troop tick off a few demographic boxes, but that’s not what makes “The Lost Sister” so sublime. I’m more interested in the diversity of thought that flies in the face of the prevailing axiom that Black and Brown people’s strength lies in our ability to withstand all manner of brutality while staying nonviolent.
The lost sister in question, Kali is filled with completely justified rage that she satiates by enacting revenge kills on the people who tortured and experimented on her as a child. She is flanked by a band of people who would literally die for her, that she brought into her life by being empathetic and possessed of a beauty that can conjure the image of a gorgeous butterfly in the night sky on a whim. In short, she’s complicated and wonderful and terrifying and driven, without any of that Pollyanna bullshit most PoC are saddled with in this kind of story.
Another thing that I loved was that Stranger Things tricked me in the most excellent way. When we saw Kali’s crew in the first episode of the season, I thought Kali fell in with this bad crowd who manipulated her to pull capers with them. I didn’t realize she was the nucleus, the commander, and the protector of this rogues gallery. The writers of “The Lost Sister” played on my own assumptions based on how media limits the agency of young Brown women. Well done!
And while we’re talking about it, Kali is Brown. Kathryn VanArendonk’s review in Vulture levies the charge that Episode 7 “has shades of the Magical Negro trope.” However, Linnea Berthelsen is not African-American/Black/Negro — despite being blessed with an abundance of melanin. Additionally, the trope is more about Black people with extraordinary wisdom and/or powers sacrificing their own wants to bolster those of white characters.
Kali is the exact opposite of that. She has her own thing going on when El shows up at the start of Stranger Things 2 Ep 7. Kali briefly helps her harness her power while trying to bring her into the fold. In fact, Kali issues a rather telling directive after El not only spares the life of their target but thwarts Kali’s attempt to complete the kill. “If you want to show mercy that’s your choice, but don’t you ever take away mine. Ever.”
I hope we see Kali in future installments without them feeling the need to make her into a villain, because her way of dealing with her trauma is valid. And if Batman, The Punisher, and about 10,000 other gravely voiced white men can be heroes fueled by revenge, then this petite Asian girl can be too. To both their credit, it seemed to pain both El and Kali that their paths were not parallel. El seemed shocked, not repulsed by Kali’s way, she even seemed mournful as she ran back to her life in Hawkins.
What makes “The Lost Sister” such a deep and essential episode of Stranger Things 2 for El’s character development is that without it, she doesn’t have her worldview or her powers challenged enough to make her final showdown in the season finale feel earned. El uses the lessons from Kali to focus her power, returning to Hawkins with a mature fury, which allows her to close the rip in space-time that she created with her unchanneled child-rage while she was still a prisoner in the lab.
El’s journey in Stranger Things 2 was about discovering self then making amends for things she’s done in the past and protecting her loved ones from harm. The Hawkins 10 had to defeat the Mind Flayer but it wouldn’t have meant diddly had El stayed in her pupa form, hidden away safe in Hopper’s cabin, unable to close the rip.
I do have a complaint though: “The Lost Sister” should not have been relegated to one episode. El should have gone to the big city and had her odyssey woven into the other storylines of the season. I’m going to give the people on social media who disliked this episode the benefit of the doubt and allow that if this wasn’t all shoved into a stand-alone ep, there would not be as much resistance to the story.
Stranger Things could have stayed in the creepy suburban cul de sac and I would have been just peachy but “The Lost Sister” added a bit of perspective and dimension that was both vital and impressive.